When they stripped you, Jesus, the wounds on your back were torn open and bled anew. You were stripped beyond mere nakedness, down to your very blood, and all were invited to look.
Did they understand that they beheld the living blood of redemption?
Being stripped naked, bleeding in public — these can be metaphors for so many of our life circumstances. To be in a hospital and ‘publicly’ stripped and bled; to face a public action that exposes us in a raw, painful manner; to make a mistake in front of the world, thus are we humiliated.
It’s the stuff of our lives in good times and in bad, this stripping of our garments, of our modesty, our protective layers. But it is even more so for me, now, in the circumstances of this day. I look to you, Jesus, and remember that they stripped you, too.
You understand the depths of my vulnerability as no other can. But your love for me is deeper than even my deepest fears. I stand beside you, Jesus, and look only at you.
I lift up my soul to my God. In you I trust; do not let me be disgraced; do not let my enemies gloat over me. No one is disgraced who waits for you… (Psalm 25:1-3)
Perhaps by the time you were laid on the wood of your cross, your day-long sufferings had numbed you to the pain of spikes being hammered into your flesh. Perhaps your eyes were closed, and so you missed the sight of the hammer falling.
Perhaps the horror of your crucifixion is just so awful to contemplate that I prefer to think of you as being in a pain-induced stupor, unaware of these agonies as they occurred. To imagine you lucid and comprehending is too terrible. How does one find comfort in these images of torture?
And yet, things have been hammered into me, too. Hard truths I don’t always want to see, knowledge of my own failings and sins, injury that I have inflicted on others, or myself, or both.
There is pain in body, pain in mind, a genuine sickness of spirit that has caused me to look away rather than see the mallet that bears the consequences of my own faults and follies. But I am aware and lucid. I know that I have sinned in my life. I know, too, the pain by which my redemption was won.
The hard truths and realities pierce me, Jesus but you are with me, sharing the blows. I know that by facing these things, I am living with you in a place of truth.
I know I will be free.
Gracious is the Lord and just; yes, our God is merciful. The Lord keeps the little ones; I was brought low and he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your tranquility, the Lord has been good to you. . . I shall walk before the Lord in the lands of the living. (Psalm 116:7-9)
While you were dying, the crowd was jeering, ‘Save yourself!’
We live in a ‘save yourself’ society, a culture of self-help. Wherever we turn we are told, ‘Do what is best for you.’ The theme of thousands of self-help books seems to be ‘Save yourself! Make yourself happy and you’ll live more happily with others!’ And that’s not completely wrong, but is it completely right?
Certainly, if I work toward my own happiness, I will live more fully. But does happiness and contentment lie in getting precisely what I want? Too often the concept of self-help becomes distorted and extreme. We come in danger of thinking always and only of ourselves and our ‘needs’ without fully considering the needs of others.
We’re not comfortable these days with the idea of sacrifice, of putting another’s well-being before our own, but today I am ready to be a little bit radical. I don’t want illusions or escape; they won’t help me to live honestly or contentedly on this very day. Rather, I wish to look out from my pain and see where my suffering might lead. We all suffer. No one has yet been born who has not had to endure, and grow from, a time of crisis.
Today, I join my troubles to the troubles and pains of all my brothers and sisters, to the pain of your mother, Mary, who had to endure the brutal, unjust death of her beloved child. I join them to you, my Lord, who could have saved yourself the pain of ‘getting involved’ with the human race. . . but chose instead to save me.
I know that there is something greater than myself at work, here, and I am ready to embrace it.
It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. (Colossians 1:24)